By Caroline Fontein (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Beatles may have only performed in Vegas in 1964, but their music continues to be a huge hit on the Las Vegas Strip with Cirque du Soleil’s “LOVE ” at the Mirage. The show opened in 2006 and amazes audiences with its stunning performances, invigorating music and commitment to honoring and celebrating the Beatles legacy.
The idea for the show sprouted from a personal friendship and mutual admiration between the late George Harrison and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté. Multitalented playwright, director and avid Beatles fan Dominic Champagne was selected to be the director for the show. Before this he directed other Cirque productions “Varekai” and “Zumanity.”
Transforming the Beatles story and music into a live production in conjunction with the Cirque du Soleil performers was something that Champagne achieved as a result of his artistic capability and extensive knowledge of the Beatles.
“The Beatles meets Cirque is like a rock ’n’ roll poem,” says “Love” Artistic Director Kati Renaud, who started working with the show in 2006, six months before it opened. “Dominic and his script really focused on some characters of the songs and then some characters who the Beatles actually had in their lives. The show is also very much about the Beatles’ trajectory of them as kids, how they met, their fame and how they dealt with their fame gradually leading into their breakup.”
Avid fans who watch the show may pick up on more of the trivia that Champagne wove into his script than the average audience member. This is one of the elements of “Love” that makes it so captivating and endearing. It caters to all audiences. In some scenes like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Lady Madonna” it is easy to see who the performers represent, but other scenes are more abstract.
“Dominic being such a hardcore Beatles fan, he was so easily able to share with us, the artistic team and the artist he was working with, why it was so important to have this character do this. In the rehearsal process he would sometimes pause everybody [and say] ‘I want to explain to you why it’s so important to have this image.’ He would link that to something that actually happened within the Beatles, between the four of them that may not have been a very well known fact, but it was important to him,” says Renaud.
An example of this is the “Help” scene in the show. The segment is performed by inline skaters who do flips, twists and jumps over 11-foot tall ramps and each other. For the audience this scene is exciting to watch, but there’s a reason why Champagne chose inline skaters to perform it.
“John Lennon wrote ‘Help’ out of wanting to escape from the fame that the Beatles were experiencing, and they felt like they didn’t have a normal life anymore. Well what do you do when you want to escape? You want to run, you want to go fast. So for Dominic it was a pretty obvious choice to use something like inline skating for ‘Help’ in order to convey what was the main reason that John Lennon wrote that song,” says Renuad.
The furry boots and the scarves worn by the inline skaters during that number are a nod to the fact that scenes from the movie ‘Help’ were set in the Austrian Alps where the Beatles wore winter clothes.
Envisioning the various scenes is only one aspect of a show that features a soundtrack with some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll music of all time. Deciding which songs were going to be featured in the show was the result of a collaborative process between Champagne, the show’s music director Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin. An Academy Award-nominated composer and founder of AI R Studios, Sir George is best known for his monumental work with the Beatles. He produced all of their albums except “Let It Be.”
Through technology and equipment that was not available when the Beatles music was originally produced, Martin and his son were able to use master tapes at the Abbey Road Studios and create a unique soundtrack of music exclusive to “Love.” This, along with the show’s innovative sound design created by Jonathan Deans, allows the Beatles’ music to be experienced in a new way.
“We can listen to this and we have been listening to this for 40 years on a pair of speakers or on headphones and that is in and of itself an experience, but really hearing this music in the theater and feeding your head with what’s on stage, it really does take it to that next level, and the innovation that has gone into all of that. I think the marriage between Cirque and the Beatles is really fantastic,” says “Love” head of sound Jason Pritchard.
Acclaimed designer Jean Rabasse created the space and set inside the Love Theater. What started as a traditional 1,500-seat proscenium theater was transformed into a 360-degree stage with six exit and entrance points surrounded by 2,013 seats. The theater has more than 6,300 speakers including three speakers in each of the seats and an additional 350 speakers located throughout the theater. The seat speakers are an integral part of “Love.” They make the music and seeing the show an intimate experience.
“You’re not so much listening to an external thing, but it’s like Paul McCartney singing to you. It’s like George Harrison is singing something to you. The seat speakers are able to create a personal experience. For the Beatles not having actually allowed their music to be publicly performed since 1971 it was really a special thing,” says Pritchard.
With the seat speakers being such an important element, Pritchard and his crew have a daily maintenance plan that is done throughout the week.
“Somebody on my crew has put an actual ear to each of those seat speakers at least once a week. So we check all 6,000 speakers throughout the course of a five-day work week,” says Pritchard.
His crew, consisting of seven people, also maintains and operates the multiple other sound system elements of “Love.” On a nightly basis it takes six of them to run the show. While the audience is engaged with what’s happening on stage, Pritchard and his crew are at work. There is always someone out in the house behind the sound console, a person in charge of the wireless microphones and someone managing a track called Artist in Ears that enables the stage management to communicate with the performers on stage during the show. The crew also maintains a closed-circuit video system of 27 different cameras so that all of the behind-the scenes people can see what’s going on during the show and a large communication system so that the 100 plus technicians who work on the show can talk to each other. The most difficult position in Pritchard’s crew is for the person running the playback system, which entails playing the music for the show.
“That’s by far the hardest chair to sit in, the most difficult, but also the most interesting and the most intricate thing that goes on. It’s really interesting to have the music under our purvey,” says Pritchard.
Pritchard started working with the show in October 2005. Joining a group of acclaimed creators and knowing what the Beatles’ legacy represented was a little nerve wracking at first, but Pritchard quickly learned that everything being done with the show was out of love and respect for the Beatles and their music. Working with Sir George Martin before the show opened gave him a firsthand insight to what that legacy means, how it was created and why the Beatles, their music and “Love” continues to be so popular today.
“When you’re in the middle of doing a production and you’re here 18 hours a day and you grab a peanut butter sandwich when you can and you’re working, getting it done, listening, taking notes and then you have a legend (Sir George Martin) in front of you who wants to tell a story, you stop and you listen because it’s never going to happen again, and it’s important to understand what happened then so we can carry that forward here,” says Pritchard.